Commentary: Alaska Marine Highway mismanagement impacts Cordova

The M/V Aurora, under lock and key after its final 2019 passenger run out of Cordova. (Sept. 20, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
The M/V Aurora, under lock and key after its final 2019 passenger run out of Cordova. (Sept. 20, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

This is an open letter from Mayor Clay Koplin, originally distributed Sept. 18.


To Whom It May Concern

Dear Sirs and Madams:

The future sustainability of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) is best achieved by reducing operating costs, growing revenues, and improving customer experience. We grow weary of repeating this admonition. Nearly every legislature and administration have collectively violated this basic service model to varying degrees. None have failed as completely as the current administration or caused as much harm to the strong and growing economy of Cordova, Alaska and coastal Alaskan communities like her.

By suspending ferry service in Prince William Sound (PWS) for over seven consecutive months spanning from September 19, 2019 to May 15, 2020, costs are partially reduced, but revenues and service are driven to zero; a collision course with disaster. Limited response to Cordova’s efforts to advise and participate in an improved business model can only be interpreted as intentional destruction of the AMHS.

For the community of Cordova, this compromises the world-class seafood catching and processing business which threatens the economy and food security of our state and nation. Seafood is the 5th largest trade imbalance in the U.S., which imports 90% of her seafood and suffered a $15 Billion trade imbalance last year alone. Cordova has spent decades building over $1 Billion of infrastructure including the largest commercial fishing fleet in Alaska representing 750 small, independent business owners, hundreds of millions of dollars of private sector investments in seafood processing plants and shipping facilities, and community water and energy expansions. The AMHS is a key link that helps improve the economics of all of these ventures including the 350 plus PWS fishermen who live on the Alaska road system in communities like Wasilla (120), Homer (100), Anchorage (100) and others to get their families, boats, vehicles, and equipment back and forth to Cordova in the October and April and intervening timeframes. Copper River Seafoods, an Anchorage-based seafood processor that relies heavily on PWS fish, employs over 250 and has spent as much as $1.4 Million in ferry fares in a single year when schedules were reliably consistent. Cordova is in jeopardy of slipping from the 11th largest seafood catching and processing port in the U.S. with an annual ex-vessel catch value of $95,000,000 to 26th where it ranked a decade ago. This at a time when City of Cordova port and harbor improvements and the newly developing fisheries and shellfish farms are positioned to move Cordova into the top 5 US seafood ports within 10 years to grow domestic strength.

We urgently request the immediate partnership and support of Cordova’s internal and external business partners, peer communities, Federal delegation and partners, and, most importantly, the State of Alaska’s Governor and AMHS management staff to support immediate reversal of this destructive and irresponsible closure of Cordova’s primary transportation mode this winter.

Respectfully,

Clay Koplin

Cordova Mayor